The number of petrol sniffers in remote Aboriginal communities across Australia has dropped by more than 80 per cent, a report shows.

The number of people sniffing petrol in remote Aboriginal communities has dropped by more than 80 per cent since low-aromatic fuel was introduced, a report shows.

Across 15 sample Aboriginal communities, the number of petrol sniffers plummeted from 546 in 2005-07 to 97 in 2011-12, or 82 per cent, according to a Menzies School of Health Research interim report released on Monday.

The introduction of the low-aromatic Opal fuel in 2005 has been extremely beneficial, says report co-author Professor Peter d’Abbs.

“It was a horrific problem for the sniffers themselves and their communities, and for the whole health and welfare system,” he told AAP.

“(Sniffers) did an enormous amount of damage, vandalising things and causing general disruption, and they were doing severe damage to themselves, mentally and physically.”

The study found although there was a general decline in use, in communities in the Goldfields region of Western Australia the number of sniffers nearly doubled from 30 to 51 between 2008 and 2011-12.

While the number of occasional sniffers decreased, the number of heavy sniffers grew from 18 to 32, although Prof d’Abbs said this was likely a random fluctuation.

Anecdotally there was evidence of a drop in crime rates, he said, although the true figures were difficult to track, and it was hard to determine whether the introduction of Opal fuel had a positive impact on school attendance, with many other factors in play.

There was anecdotal evidence that former petrol sniffers had moved to other volatile substances such as paint or glue, but on a far smaller scale.

“The great advantage of petrol over other drugs is you don’t pay for the petrol, or you don’t pay very much,” Prof d’Abbs said.

“People can’t automatically access cannabis, say, if they can’t get petrol, because it’ll cost a hell of a lot more.”

Some roadhouses refuse to stock Opal fuel because they say it can damage car engines, despite evidence to the contrary.

Prof d’Abbs is calling for a regional rollout of the fuel in the NT, WA and Queensland.

The study will conclude at the end of this year.